Equilibrium — World’s largest toad euthanized in Australia

Rangers in an Australian national park have found and euthanized the largest toad on record.

Early attempts to name the 6-pound cane toad fizzled, park ranger Kylee Gray told Australian broadcasters, according to Reuters.

“We considered naming her Connie after Conway National Park, but Toadzilla was the one that just kept getting thrown out there, so that kind of stuck,” Gray said.

Toadzilla was the descendant of a botched experiment in wildlife management: the 1935 decision to import Central American cane toads to eat beetles in Australia’s sugarcane fields.

With no natural predators and plenty of other small species to eat, the poisonous toads ate the beetles — then set to work on the rest of the ecosystem.

“A female cane toad like potentially Toadzilla would lay up to 35,000 eggs. So their capacity to reproduce is quite staggering,” park ranger Barry Nolan told Reuters.

The Australian government and public now kill thousands of toads a year, according to the University of Sydney.

The most humane method of euthanasia is to stick frogs in a freezer until they nod off, the university reported.

Toadzilla’s body was donated to the Queensland National Museum, according to Reuters.

Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. We’re Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Not on the list? Subscribe here.

Today we’ll start by exploring why some veterans who long ago filed toxic exposure claims are now slamming the government for delaying their pursuit of justice.

Plus: The World Trade Organization calls for global carbon pricing, and a look at where future U.S. hydrogen hubs might take root.

Toxic exposure victims slam military, DOJ for delays

Thousands of Americans are waiting to seek justice for a historic set of toxic exposure claims, even though Congress removed barriers from pursuing such lawsuits months ago.

Not giving up: Some of those involved were shocked to see their cases, related to Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, dismissed last month over a technicality.

  • That technicality has required them to start the process over again. 

  • But they don’t plan to give up the fight just yet.

Hope for survivors: “We sat in the gallery of the Senate three hours while the Senate voted on three different amendments and then took the final vote on the PACT Act,” said Mike Partain, a breast cancer survivor born at Camp Lejeune.

“Veterans were crying. They were hugging each other,” Partain added.

What’s the PACT Act? The Honoring our PACT Act is an expansive bill signed into law in August that improved benefits for veterans exposed to toxins.

  • Within the bill is a measure permitting lawsuits for those who endured on-base water contamination decades ago at Camp Lejeune.  

  • The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that payouts to Camp Lejeune victims will amount to about $6.7 billion through 2031.

From elation to frustration: “I can’t explain how elated, how relieved I was that it finally passed,” Partain said.

But those feelings of elation have turned into frustration.

What happened? The same day that President Biden signed the bill into law, groups of plaintiffs filed multiple toxic exposure lawsuits against the U.S.

  • Just last month, however, Partain found out by chance — through a Google alert — that his case had been dismissed. 

  • The reason for the dismissal, he learned, was a legal technicality: He needed to re-file what’s known as “an administrative claim” before filing his actual lawsuit.

Waiting game: “The law says you have to file an administrative claim with the Department of the Navy,” Partain said. “Our position was we already did.”

To read the rest of the story, please click here.

WTO chief calls for global carbon pricing

Adopting a global carbon pricing scheme could help streamline supply chains and mitigate concerns about competition, according to the head of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Certainty, predictability: “A shared global carbon-pricing framework would best provide certainty for businesses and predictability for developing countries,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

Making pricing consistent: Today there are at least 70 different — and “fragmented” — carbon pricing setups around the world, according to Okonjo-Iweala.

  • This situation hampers the decarbonization of trade and supply chains, the World Economic Forum stated following her address. 

  • The WTO is now working with the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the International Monetary Fund to streamline carbon pricing, Okonjo-Iweala confirmed.

Realigning tariffs: Okonjo-Iweala also called for the elimination of “skewed” import tariffs that plague national borders today.

  • Such tariffs favor high-carbon imports over those whose production have generated fewer emissions. 

  • This discrepancy has resulted in what Okonjo-Iweala described as “an implicit subsidy” for carbon production — equal to between $550 billion and $800 billion per year. 

  • Eradicating this bias, she added, could decrease global carbon emissions by 3.6 percent while increasing global income by 0.65 percent.

Need for inclusivity: Decarbonization of global trade and supply chains must occur in a way that is “leaving no one behind,” according to Okonjo-Iweala.

  • Developing countries, she explained, will need to obtain both “the capacity and infrastructure to demonstrate the low carbon content of their goods.” 

  • At the same time, however, she identified an opportunity for developing countries “to leapfrog” past environmentally harmful stages of development.

Solving ‘the climate puzzle’: Okonjo-Iweala emphasized the need for the scale-up and “diffusion of the green technologies that are necessary to ensure sustainable growth.”

“Trade is the missing piece of the climate puzzle,” she added. “Trade is part of the solution.”

To read the full story, please click here.

Regions compete for billions in hydrogen funding

Dozens of regional business coalitions are competing to win billions in Department of Energy hydrogen funding — and the race is getting tighter.

  • The 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law includes $8 billion in funding for six to 10 “hydrogen hubs.”  

  • These will be networks of companies that can produce, use or transport hydrogen. 

  • Some must use renewable energy, and some must use fossil fuels.

Competition is narrowing: The Energy Department received 79 proposals — but invited just 33 applicants to move to the next step.

Note of caution: Critics warn that if the hydrogen economy doesn’t take off, these regions could end up saddled with a new rust belt — when wind, solar and battery technology are already competitive.

  • “The proposition has been that ‘hydrogen is the answer to everything,’” Dennis Wamsted, director of the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis told Equilibrium. 

  • “If you don’t agree with that, you start to question the need for a very rapid build-out,” he added.

Who made the cut: The department has yet to reveal these details, but here are some applicants who this week announced that they had made it to the next step:

What’s next? Final proposals are due to the department in April.

Stars disappearing faster than expected: study

Saturday night is the new moon when skies are darkest, and thousands of stars — and even the pale, broad curve of the Milky Way — should be visible to the naked eye.

  • But those stars are vanishing far faster than expected, according to a study published on Thursday in Science.  

  • The light spilling from streetlamps, buildings and headlights has doubled the night sky’s brightness in less than eight years — with potentially severe impacts on human and animal health.

Worse than we had thought: Policymakers have long been aware that background light levels were increasing, according to the study.

  • Satellite records showed they were going up 2 percent yearly — fast enough to double every 35 years.  

  • But naked-eye observations by more than 50,000 volunteers revealed an increase of more than 10 percent.  

  • That means the sky’s brightness now doubles approximately every seven years — five times faster than expected.

In real terms: Imagine a child born today someplace where 250 stars are visible, lead author Christopher Kyba suggested in a statement accompanying the study.

At this rate, “they would be able to see only abound 100 by the time they turned 18,” said Kyba, a physicist at the German Research Center for Geosciences.

Out of sight: Fewer than a fifth of Americans can see the rim of their home galaxy, the Milky Way, according to the researchers.

And as cities expand into hinterlands and throw up more streetlights, more light escapes into the sky, Kyba said.

  • If such trends continue, this “skyglow” or will ultimately claim “even the brightest constellations,” Kyba told The Guardian.  

  • Even “Orion’s belt will start to disappear at some point,” he added.

End of night: “We are losing, year by year, the possibility to see the stars,” Fabio Falchi, a physicist at the University of Santiago de Compostela, told the Associated Press.

Losing cover: This change has been disastrous for the animal world — particularly for nocturnal species, Kyba told the International Dark-Sky Association.

  • “Predators use light to hunt, and prey species use darkness as cover,” Kyba explained.  

  • But “near cities, cloudy skies are now hundreds, or even thousands of times brighter than they were 200 years ago,” he added.

Follow-up Friday

In which we revisit some of the issues we’ve covered this week. 

FAA: Outage unintentionally caused by contractors

Pakistan may start importing Russian oil this spring

  • The International Energy Agency characterized Russia’s oil outlook with a “high degree of uncertainty,” as one of two “wild cards” alongside China. After March, Russia may begin exporting oil to Pakistan — an energy-starved country that already indicated possible interest in discounted Russian crude this fall, Reuters reported.

Davos climate talks feature fossil fuels

  • Fossil fuel companies are throwing the public “under the bus,” climate activist Greta Thunberg told a panel in Davos, Switzerland, this week. But at the nearby World Economic Forum, the fossil fuel industry presented itself as a necessary part of the future energy system – to the grudging acceptance of some renewables leaders, Reuters reported.

Please visit The Hill’s Sustainability section online for more and check out other newsletters here. We’ll see you next week.

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